Friday, June 20, 2008

Starting from scratch

Indeed, as bionic-woman wrote, Billie's plan of work sounds like it's at the wrapping up stage, and considering her manifest dedication I'm sure the 75-day deadline is highly feasible.

For me, finishing the PhD this year is a life or death question, at least financially, which is why I must submit by October 20 hoping to have my Viva early in December. So far I've completed my data analysis (of structured interviews, family discussion sessions and diaries), and have written four out of seven chapters. My problem is I just can't seem to be able to put together a literature review. I have written several dozens of pages already but when I re-read they all seem rubbish, too disorganised for my taste. It's getting worse by the minute because I've come to my closed chapters and they look like they need to be re-written too. Just an example: My “diss” working title at the moment is "Viewing globalization in transnational, Mexican-American spaces". Theories of transnationalism are central to my argument and I have explained them in detail in the overview of Mexicans in the U.S. There is stuff there which must be in the literature review, but doing this means parts of the chapter on Mexicans will be redundant. This makes me think the stuff about Mexicans must be altogether in the literature review instead of being part of a single chapter. But if I do this, then the whole structure of the “diss” would need to change.

Well, I've learned in the last three years that what happens to me is nothing special and that everyone pursuing a PhD goes through a very similar process. The thing is that I've been wasting too much time from the beginning starting from scratch whenever I find the organization of a chapter is all over the place, or when I feel I need to take a different theoretical or ideological approach. I'd very much appreciate to have your thoughts.


Billie said...

Gabriel, we are at about the same stage of the work. I have four of seven chapters completed, and I'm ***striving*** to finish the other four (intro, conclusion, lit review, and analysis) this summer (the intro/conclusion being shortish chapters, the other two being fairly complex and long). That lit review is a bear . . . and I don't know quite what to do with it either.

In terms of general strategies, and I'm not any expert by any stretch so other DBCers might have another approach, I tend to do a mind-dump and just write all that I can about my subject. Once it's out on paper, I can go back and restructure and edit. Then, I work in chunks, finishing (more or less) one section before I move on to the next . . . then I add transitional pages/paragraphs to link together the sections.

But then, I'm not done with the diss yet, so take that with a grain of salt. ;-)

doug said...

Have you asked your committee for feedback on this issue? I'm coming from a rhetoric and writing background (so a different disciplinary perspective), but how rigid is the lit review requirement? My diss didn't have a chapter called lit review -- I just built in all the relevant references as each chapter needed them (of course, the intro chapter tried to show the gaps in the current research and hit on all the relevant 'must-reads' to show I'd done my homework.) I guess what I'm asking is: does the institutionally-given structure drive the organization or does the content/purpose of your project? Maybe you don't need the stuff from your other chapter in your lit review because you'll be using it where it is important (or, alternately, you can briefly reference it in the lit review and say "see chapter x for a view of how I use these works within the context of y")

liquid distance said...

Thank you for your comments billie/doug. I think your writing strategy, billie, is the most adequate for PhD work but it's not in me, or at least I need to train myself to write in segments and then stitching them up together. I'm afraid it would be too patchy but may be I should just try.

Doug, I get your point, there's no institutional guidelines regarding the structure of the thesis but because my findings are theoretical and practical the work I have to reference (e.g. post-industrial effects on the nature of migratory trends) at some points seem unrelated to my area of investigation (audience research). The thing is my lit review does need to address this questions in detail the second chapter rather than just a mention. It all comes to bad planning on my part, and too really poor supervision :(